rhythmic illusions


I'd had this idea for a creative 'conceptual' book for many years. I felt that a lot of us had come beyond the bare rudiments stuff and were maybe looking for something a bit more challenging and, more importantly, something to get the creative juices flowing. A method for the brain more than the muscles in our limbs.

So what is a Rhythmic Illusion?

Have you ever been listening to the radio, changed stations and tuned into a song that sounded as if it had a fantastically unusual rhythm, only to discover moments later, in reality, you had simply misinterpreted something quite straightforward? Or, perhaps, heard a guitarist play an unaccompanied syncopated intro and, believing you'd identified the beat, tapped your foot along to it until the band came in at a completely unexpected place? Chances are, you were rhythmically illuded.

'Rhythmic Illusions' are about making small changes to a conventional pattern in order to persuade the listener that the tempo, and or time signature has momentarily changed. The secret of a good illusion is to make sure that the pattern you are presenting, is a simple recognisable rhythm that the listeners' ear will naturally pick up on. A rhythmic illusion will have it's best effect when it 'appears' that the drummer has temporarily left the downbeat and tempo behind,whilst the music carries on unchanged underneath it. During an interview for Rhythm Magazine UK in 1988 I was talking about my ideas for a 'Rhythmic Illusions' book to editor Simon Braund and he invited me to write a column for them. It turned out to be the perfect way to gradually focus my ideas towards this topic. Since I finished writing for Rhythm in 1992 I have added many more 'sub concepts' and 'theories' and have organized them into the following groups;

A Status

A mental state that you should be in whilst playing an illusion .i.e still knowing where the '1' is - and still keeping the original tempo in your head.

B Status

Where the listeners head should be whilst you're playing an illusion. In the 'implied new tempo' and or with the 'implied new downbeat'.


The small pulses that make up a bar.

Displacement type 1

Where a whole pattern is moved forwards or backwards by a certain amount of subdivisions. i.e a to new starting position in the bar.

Displacement type 2

Where one part of a pattern stays the same whilst another is shifted along by a certain amount of subdivisions.

Modulation type 1

Common subdivisions (8, 12, 16) mixed with common Formulae and Spacings.

Modulation type 2

Common subdivisions (8, 12, 16) mixed with odd Formulae and Spacings (5,7 etc).

Modulation type 3

Odd subdivisions (5, 7, 9 etc) mixed with common Formulae and Spacings.


A formula is a pattern (made up of a series of notes and rests) that is applied to any subdivision.


The distance (in subdivisions) from a downbeat (bass drum) to a back beat (snare drum).


The basis of any equal amount of subdivisions over one beat. Then over two beats/three beats and so on up the scale Of course for a full and detailed explanation of these concepts you will actually have to buy the book. (Yes there had to be a catch in there somewhere!) Included with the book is a CD of me playing the more significantly nasty examples (some of which are followed by versions set in a 'musical' context). Yippee!! Sounds to good too be true!! Send me one now!! etc.